Social media and mass media influence the way we react and interact with our world and potentially influence the perception of our own body image, saidAmanda Swartz, a licensed psychologist at the TCU Counseling Center.
“Social media has done a lot in our culture, as far as affecting access to visual stimuli,” said Dr. Swartz. “People are on Facebook or Instagram and they’re constantly comparing themselves to other people.”
Although mass media has been producing images of society’s idea of beauty for years, the increased use of social media allows users to compare themselves to their peers, not just celebrities or models, said Dr. Swartz.
A study by Dr. Anne E. Becker in conjunction with Harvard Medical School, gives context to the influence media has on body image.
Dr. Becker chose a region of Fiji where only one case of an eating disorder had been reported. The region also had no exposure to westernized television until 1995.
Within three years of television being introduced to the region, the amount of girls who induced vomiting to control their weight increased by 11 percent and the amount of girls scoring highly on a test for eating disorder risks increased by 16 percent. Additionally, girls who watched TV three or more nights a week were 50 percent more likely to describe themselves as being “too fat.”
This came from a culture that historically idealized a robust body figure, according to Dr. Beckner’s study.
“There’s a constant comparison that people are unaware of,” Dr. Swartz said. “This constant comparison can really impact negative body image.”
Increasing use of social media sites combined with mass media messages only heightens the comparisons, said Erin VanEnkevort.
Erin VanEnkevort, a TCU graduate student in the psychology doctorate program, studies the evaluation of self and others.
Much of her research surrounds the objectification of women, which is overwhelmingly found in social and mass media, she said.
“Increasingly we see more and more sexualized images and slogans of women in the media,” VanEnkevort said. “What we find is that from this, women adapt a third person view of themselves. So they start seeing themselves as a physical object to be consumed by others and, they down play the importance of their own competence.”
VanEnkevort said this mindset leads to a slew of other issues including decreased self esteem, increased body shame, less relationship satisfaction and an increased risk for developing an eating disorder.
Dr. Swartz said the main problem is that people are unaware of the consequences of what they post.
“You never know what people are going through and just how what you post or say online will affect others,” she said.
Adding onto the pressure to be thin, big brands have publicly supported this standard of beauty.
Lululemon founder Chip Wilson stated that his athletic pants “don’t work for some women’s bodies” when they were recalled for being too sheer.
Abercrombie CEO Mike Jefferies made comments stating the brand doesn’t sell extra-large sizes because they don’t want larger people shopping in their stores.
Urban Outfitters sold graphic t-shirts with the words “Eat Less” and “Depression.”
Dr. Swartz said that these social statements have no repercussions aside from public backlash, which does little to help the portion of the population affected by these statements.
“The issue is that people struggling with negative body image won’t see the public backlash, they just continue to compare themselves, thinking if I don’t fit in those clothes, if I don’t meet this standard, then I’m not good enough,” Dr. Swartz said.
In a 2006 interview Jefferies said, “That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.”
According to “Objectification Theory Toward Understanding Women’s Lived Experiences and Mental Health Risks” by Barbara Fredrickson and Tomi-Ann Roberts, some people try hard to attain this marketed image.
Online communities dedicated to controlling or losing weight have become increasingly popular on social media.
Dr. Swartz said these communities known as pro-ana and pro-meta (pro-anorexic and pro-bulimic) serve as dysfunctional support groups.
These sites give people “thin-spiration,” allowing users to post goals, pictures, and even teach other users new ways to purge or deter eating.
Dr. Swartz said these sites increase the competition of attaining a thin body image.
“It can be hard to get family, friends and loved ones to support you in this behavior that can kill you,” Dr. Swartz said. “But on these sites you’re getting accolades from people and it can really confuse thinking and deter from true recovery.”
Many studies have suggested that even though eating disorders are the killers of multiple people per year, they are still perceived as more socially acceptable than other diseases.
According to the article by Fredrickson and Roberts, “Chronic dieting and restrained eating have been said to be a way of life for girls and women, one that is supported and encouraged by peers as well as parents.”
VanEnkevort and Swartz agree that these constant comparisons and pressures of becoming an unattainable ideal of beauty are affluent and viral.Recently sparking controversy at TCU with the #teamskinny incident, body image continues to remain an issue, especially on social media.
There is little combating negative body image, according to VanEnkevort. Although media literacy is being integrated into schools, younger people are less likely to utilize it outside of class assignments, and image competition is still a very prevalent.
“The best thing we can do is to find something else you pride yourself in besides your body. Realize that you are more than a body and encourage the people around you in the same way.”